Every day, millions of people get sucked into internet scams and tricks that end up costing them dearly. I was reminded of this when I got a letter from a reader asking this simple question: How can I tell if something on the internet is legit or some kind of scam?
Great question. I posed it to my colleague and cyberspace expert, Doug Alton. Here are Doug's 10 glaring signs you've hit on an internet scam:
• If it plays a video that has the controls removed, it's a scam, so stop watching! When you can't fast-forward, pause or even tell how long the video is, that's because they are only going to tell you a long list of reasons why you should send them money. Don't bother; exit out of the page. They will never tell you the information that you clicked on the link to get, even if you send them money. It's a scam.
• You want to leave the page but keep hitting up against something like, "Are you sure you want to leave this page?" Legitimate sites don't do this, but nearly all of the scam sites do. Run the other way.
• There are pop-ups that try to get you to sign up for their propaganda or "free updates" before you even get a chance to read the article. This is a major red flag.
• The text is actually on the page as an image, not text. You can tell because you can't copy and paste names or numbers. Many scam sites and Craigslist entries do this. It's a bad sign. The only reason they would do this is to prevent you from copying the text and computers from reading it. They are hiding something.
• If you see the words "weird" or "trick," and especially if you see the words "weird trick," chances are great that it's a scam. Don't fall for it.
• Anything that promotes free energy is a scam. Solar panels are not free, so the energy still costs you money. But there are many people who wish to believe in some hidden form of free energy. These posts are all scams.
• If you try to close the page and another page pops up, you may have a virus. If this happens, shut down the site and restart your computer. Run an antivirus scan immediately.
• While there are legitimate opportunities, most "work-from-home jobs" are scams. Research before you go that route.
• Risk-free trials are NOT risk-free if you have to give a credit card or bank account number to get the free trial. They will automatically bill you if you don't spend weeks trying to cancel. It happens every day.
• Anything that claims to treat or cure a disease that modern medicine cannot is a scam.
Cyberspace is a great, big, mostly wonderful place, but it is not immune to crime and hustlers wishing to do us harm. It's important to be wary of the many dangers lurking within. You can protect yourself if you are diligent enough to learn these 10 signs and put the precautions into practice.
Stay safe out there.
Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com and author of "Debt-Proof Living." Questions, comments and tips can be sent on her website.